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Fashion Designer for Wheelchair Users

For Izzy Camilleri, the journey to becoming a top fashion designer for people with disabilities began after befriending Barbara Turnbull, also of Toronto, Canada, who was a wheelchair-using quadriplegic.

"When I met Barb ten years ago, she had been injured twenty years," said 49-year-old Camilleri in a telephone interview. "By then, I had made a strong name for myself in the Canadian fashion industry. Barb asked the fashion editor of a newspaper who the editor would recommend to make a cape for her. Today, Barb is a reporter with the Toronto Star. "

Camilleri had never designed clothing for a wheelchair user or quadriplegic, and did not realize their clothing needed special alterations and features.

She said, "(Meeting Barb) was an eye-opening experience that went beyond clothing. When we met, I noticed she was static in her chair and could only move her neck and head. After our meeting, I had all these questions in my head. How did she shower? How did she put food in her mouth? How did she use the bathroom? The more I thought about her experience, the more humbling it was for me."

Camilleri went on to design and make more clothing for Turnbull before beginning to realize a "big void" existed in the marketplace for fashionable and comfortable clothing for wheelchair-using professionals and younger people. She researched what was available and learned nearly all clothing made for people with disabilities was for elderly people. She also learned 84 percent of Canadians with spinal cord injury were between ages 18 and 34.
She began IZ Adaptive in 2009, and today through an online store has male and female clients in Australia, the UK, and Europe, besides North America. The company has a nearly 100-item custom product line, including pants, shirts, jackets, coats, skirts, sweaters, and dresses.

She said, "Normally, people in a wheelchair have a hard time wearing a coat or anything below the waist. For instance, when you sit in a chair, a zipper jacket will buckle and get shorter. And with a coat, if you can't stand up to put it on, you will get this big puddle of fabric around your waist. With our coats and pants, we accommodate a seated frame. You can put them on while sitting and still have the length, but there is no bulk."

Currently, the Royal Ontario Museum has an IZ Adaptive clothing exhibit.

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